*This article is the 3rd in a 5 part series on Animation Production Management by Ranjit (Tony) Singh.*
AAA: What are the benefits of a systematically managed Animation Production?
Tony: There are many invaluable benefits to a systematically managed production. Due to its inherent nature, animation involves multiple tasks and in most cases a team of people. It also needs infrastructure, financial and administrative resources. It does not matter whether you are an independent artist or a team of people; look at it as two systems in parallel play. One that creates the material and another that provides the support structure around the creators and the creation.
It is but obvious that if this entire machinery has to work seamlessly, there has to be operative systems and processes in place to run as well as manage the entity. This is not just about creating art, its about creating it profitably and in a manner that enables artists to spend more productive time on their projects. If the administrative duties on a project take up a majority of your time, then your art and creativity invariably suffer.
A systematically managed production is nothing but a controlled production, where people are in-charge and in total control of the progress on projects, things happen not by chance but by deliberate design, tasks are initiated and completed successfully within the given time frames, resources are optimally allocated and utilized, project status is regularly tracked and updated, communication is clear and comprehensible, budgets and schedules are realistic and well thought out. Most importantly – people know what is going on at any given point in time and investments in resources, time, money, manpower and infrastructure generate profitable returns.
Each and every activity, be it at an individual level or at the group level, has a trickle down effect in productions. If artists are organized and work systematically the project encounters lesser problems. Similarly if the administrative side is organized, people get more time to add value to projects. The two are not mutually exclusive and in fact are inter-dependent.
AAA: What could go wrong in its absence or in case it is not properly implemented?
Tony: Many things do go wrong! At the individual level, you may work on a project and never realize how much you are actually investing in it. Your time, effort and creativity all have a value –at least they should and I believe that every investment you make should bring you satisfaction and a decent return.
I really don’t see the point in investing time and effort in an activity that doesn’t do either. Whether the returns are monetary or not is a matter of personal choice. As individuals we all have various responsibilities and it is in our nature that whatever time and energy we invest, they should give us enough returns to enable us to fulfill those duties. Very often I find artists heavily overworked, hassled with their jobs, generally with no time for self, family or personal growth and caught in a daily grind –most of this stems from poor self-organization.
Extrapolate this to a team / group or studio level and the problems compound themselves. An organization cannot afford to function in chaos. It’s like the human body –for it to stay healthy each part of the machinery has to function properly and in sync with each other. If your brain doesn’t know what your limbs are doing, my guess is that you’re in deep trouble. Studios and teams that do not work systematically can never be profitable. They are hard pressed to complete projects on time and invariably lose face with clients and talent. Nobody likes to work in a chaotic environment where things are constantly out of control.
I have always maintained that people work with me because they believe I can deliver a solution within a stipulated time and cost and what I just cannot afford to do is to break that trust. The nature of this business is that not only are we expected to deliver on time and within cost, we are also expected to add value to our projects. That is what separates good from great. I find that by being organized, systematic and working to a plan it helps me to deliver on my commitments without losing my sanity and without driving other people nuts.
AAA: Please share with us one case study of a project that benefitted from proper production management?
Tony: This project was for a CGI program id of a popular TV channel. The team had recently progressed to working with CGI on their projects. This was a group of extremely talented artists who specialized in stop motion animation. Their requirement was of a system and processes that would free them to spend more time on their art and less time in managing their assets. With a background in stop motion animation where the assets are physical, the virtual world was a new experience for them.
So we designed and implemented a system that enabled them to keep track of their work on a daily basis. User-friendly data handling and storage processes were designed and adopted. Resources were analyzed and redirected wherever necessary to ensure their optimal use. Basically we brought about a sense of order in the functioning of the studio so that working with a new medium did not in any way hamper the enormous creativity of the group. They successfully completed the project in time and were also able to dramatically improve their efficiencies in production.
Today the studio does a lot of award winning CGI work and is currently working on its own mini-feature series productions.
AAA: Please share another case study but this time one where a project / organisation that suffered due to lack of proper management.
Tony: There are many such disaster stories, but one that I can cite is where I was brought in to turn things around. This was a large studio working on an international episodic series for a reputed broadcaster. A team of about 130 people was working on this project and the first impression I got was that everyone was drifting aimlessly. It almost seemed like the ship was afloat only because it had not yet sunk! Truly talented and gifted artists but each dancing to their own tune. There was an excuse of a production department and absolutely no sense of control on the project.
Communication between the artists, departments, director, team leads and the management was totally chaotic. Ten people interpreted what was said to one person in ten different ways. Records and documentation were in a dismal state and schedules were shot to hell. They had plans, but lacked implementation. They had resources, but were over committed in some places and under utilised in other areas. The one thing that I did find positive and which was the only reason we successfully turned things around, was the realization amongst the management that they were in trouble and needed someone who could be entrusted to take charge of things on the floor, someone who could design processes and systems to bring order to the chaos.
Proper production management is what saved the day and the studio went on to successfully deliver the entire project that ultimately won a lot of international recognition as well.
AAA: Can implementing production management techniques at later stages of projects help in fire-fighting a situation caused by the absence of proper systems in initial stages?
Tony: Yes it can, but it is advisable not to wait till disaster strikes. The time taken to change things around is always more than if systems and processes are pre-planned and adopted right at the start. When we deal with human capital, we have to keep in mind that people are creatures of habit. Once we get comfortable working in a system, it takes a lot of effort and courage to change our ways. Then there is also the factor of impending deliveries. It’s not an easy task to design, test, fine tune and implement a new system within an existing environment. More often than not, it’s people who resist change. Firefighting to set things right and on course is always possible, but it should not become a matter of routine. People have to drive projects and not be driven by them.